2021 Vital MX 250 Shootout: Full Test


Welcome to the 2021 Vital MX 250 Shootout. Just as the 450 shootout, this year’s shootout has a big yellow hole in it. Again, the Suzuki RM-Z is missing from our line-up and there is still no word from them on when we’ll see 2021 bikes. We were at least hoping to replace the RM-Z with a MC 250 from GASGAS, but they aren’t available until next month. So, five bikes it is!

There are two bikes that got a ton of changes this year: Yamaha’s YZ250F and Kawasaki’s KX250. Both are similar in that a lot of their newness came directly from their 450 bigger brothers. Now both the YZ-F and KX line share the same frame/bodywork/chassis platform. For KTM and Husqvarna, there were internal suspension changes, and the Husky separates itself even more with both the shock and fork being 10 mm lower than last year’s model. As for the CRF250F, no changes at all (not even BNG). 

Two days were spent by six testers putting these machines through their paces. Day one was at Fox Raceway, characterized by its big jumps, long rhythm sections, and semi-sandy soil. Day two was at Cahuilla Creek MX, which has a fair amount of elevation change, more open and flowing design and deep sandy soil. 

 

The Contenders

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2021 Honda CRF250R
MSRP: $7,999 (no change from last year)
First Impression 

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2021 Husqvarna FC 250
MSRP: $9,399 (up $200 from last year)
First Impression

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2021 Kawasaki KX250
MSRP: $8,299 (up $500 from last year)

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2021 KTM 250 SX-F
MSRP: $9,299 (up $200 from last year)

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2021 Yamaha YZ450F
MSRP: $8,299 (up $100 from last year)



Dyno Charts

Race Tech generously let us use their dyno again to get all the torque and horsepower numbers. Looking at these graphs, there are a few surprises that don't really coincide with what our testers felt. For one, all the testers agreed that the Honda was definitely down on power and that the Kawasaki felt strong and like it was one of the best motors. But looking at their HP and torque curves, they are almost identical. What is also surprising is that the HP and torque leader this year is the Husqvarna, which wasn't perceived that way on the track. What was confirmed, however is that the Honda had the lowest numbers, but not by much, and that the Husky and KTM still have the most HP, followed by the new Kawi. Also, most testers thought that the Yamaha had the strongest motor overall and would dominate in the torque department. While the blue bike did come in second in torque, it is fourth in the HP race. 

All of this is to say that while dynos don't lie and knowing the facts about the bikes can be a useful tool, take it with a grain of salt. The real world application of power is way different than a line on a graph. We could put even the most novice tester in the world on the Honda and then the Kawasaki and they would say they are completely different in overall engine performance, yet the graphs make them look the same. 

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Husqvarna FC 250

Max Horsepower: 40.77 at 13,250 RPM
Max Torque: 19.9 ft-lb at 9,200 RPM

KTM 250 SX-F

Max Horsepower: 40.77 at 13,25000 RPM
Max Torque: 19.2 ft-lb at 10,000 RPM

Kawasaki KX250

Max Horsepower: 40.06 at 13,700 RPM
Max Torque:  19.1 ft-lb at 9,500 RPM

Yamaha YZ250F

Max Horsepower:  39.91 at 12,400 RPM
Max Torque:  19.4 ft-lb at 9,400 RPM

Honda CRF250R

Max Horsepower:  39.12 at 12,000 RPM
Max Torque: 19.0  ft-lb at 9,700 PRM

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Weights In Descending Order

Bike Overall Front Wheel Rear Wheel
KTM 250 SX-F 228 lb 109 lb 119 lb
Husqvarna FC 250 229 lb 110 lb 119 lb
Yamaha YZ250F 235 lb 113 lb 122 lb
Honda CRF250R 236 lb 116 lb 120 lb
Kawasaki KX250 237 lb 114 lb 123 lb

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Results

Bike Sean Klinger David Pingree Chris Siebenhaar Cory Martin Steve Boniface Willy Simons Overall
Yamaha 2 1 1 3 1 1

9

Kawasaki 1 5 2 2 3 2

15

KTM 4 2 4 1 2 3

16

Husqvarna 5 3 3 5 4 4

24

Honda 3 4 5 4 5 5

26


Test Rider Notes

David Pingree
Age: 45
Height: 5’ 7”
Weight: 170 lb
Class: Vet Expert

1 Yamaha YZ250F
2 KTM 250 SX-F
3 Husqvarna FC 250
4 Honda CRF250R
5 Kawasaki KX250

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1) Yamaha YZ250F

The Yamaha has the best suspension in the class, hands down. That alone makes it fun and easy to ride because it inspires confidence; you never wonder how it will react to a bump or obstacle. The new chassis turns better than the previous model and, while it is still a touch wide for my liking, it has a very comfortable and stable feeling. The brakes and clutch are both excellent, and the app that allows you to change mapping and record settings and service is phenomenal. The motor is also class-leading, particularly the low to mid-range power and torque character. This allows you to ride the bike with less effort while still going fast. It’s like a very light 450 in many ways, particularly exiting turns where you can just roll on the throttle and go without having to rely on the clutch. This was the winning bike for me.

2) KTM 250 SX-F

The KTM has excellent suspension, even with the air fork. While I hate checking it every time I go out, it does work very well and allow you to make changes easily from track to track. When set up properly, the WP suspenders do an excellent job. The feel is a little softer than the Yamaha, which is good in some instances, and not so much in others. Overall, though, it handles great. The chassis is stable and very comfortable, particularly in small, sharp chop. The steel frame flexes more than aluminum and deadens the feedback to the rider. Brakes are excellent, the clutch is a little on/off in it’s feel, but it works well, and the map/TC module is the best in the class. You can easily toggle between maps and traction control while on the move. Balance is important on the KTM… keep working with fork air pressure until you have the balance right. Once that is figured out the rest of the bike comes together. Cornering is great and straight-line stability is excellent. The engine makes a ton of power, but it’s so high in the RPM range, you don’t get to use it that often. KTM would be wise to move the power down lower so suit a broader range of riders. If you get this bike, rev the piss out of it. 

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3) Husqvarna FC 250

I could basically copy and paste my notes from the KTM into this paragraph, with a few notable exceptions. First, this bike definitely sits lower. If you are a short guy who wants something closer to the ground, this is for you. Unlike the 450, the lowered suspension isn’t that noticeable on the track. There is a slightly mellowed power delivery on this bike compared to the KTM, but it still makes big numbers up high. With the exception of the height, the Husky felt very similar to the KTM. Great motorcycle. 

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4) Honda CRF250R

I said in the video that this bike is a few horsepower away from being the best bike in the class. The Honda is probably the most comfortable bike in the group, in terms of just sitting on it and feeling comfortable. The handling is great and the bike works really well from track to track. The suspension is good, though I found the front end to be a little soft in stock trim. It was easily fixed with clickers and fork height, changes that made a world of difference in the feel of the bike overall. If you get a feeling like there is too much weight on the front end, stiffen the compression in the forks and drop the forks a couple millimeters in the clamps. Once I did that, I loved riding this bike. Brakes, clutch and ergos were all fantastic. The one problem this bike has is a lack of raw horsepower. While it does deliver it well, it is obviously down on power compared to the other bikes. If Honda can figure out a way to squeeze a few more ponies out of this thing, it could be at the top of the standings. 

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5) Kawasaki KX250

The Kawasaki is an awesome bike this year. The one issue that dropped it in the rankings for me is the suspension. I tried a bunch of different things but ultimately, never found a setting that was great. I was content, but not thrilled with the way it worked. I had no problems with absorbing landings, it turned great, it was stable at speed… I just couldn’t get the comfort I wanted in braking bumps and acceleration chop. The brakes were amazing on this bike, as was the clutch. Kawasaki has the best feeling hydraulic clutch in the business, no contest. I loved the smaller feel of the clutch and brake lever as well. The bike is comfortable and the engine works well. The engine was loud, which I didn’t love, but it produces a good, easy-to-use power that fits any style of rider. Awesome all-around bike.


Chris Siebenhaar
Age: 35
Height: 5’ 10”
Weight: 170 lb
Class: Intermediate/Expert 

1 Yamaha YZ250F
2 Kawasaki KX250
3 Husqvarna FC 250
4 KTM 250 SX-F
5 Honda CRF250R

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1) Yamaha YZ250F

This bike checks so many boxes of great attributes and even the areas where it lacks (or I struggle) really isn’t that bad. Right from the push of the start button, you can feel the extra grunt that the Yamaha engine has, this is immediately felt the moment you open up the throttle heading out on track. With a massive low-end (for the 250 class) that pulls into a very healthy mid-range and strong top end, you can really ride this bike however you want to. Additionally, the power is so universal that it will excel at any style track, be it fast and flowing or tight and technical, this engine has no shortfall that will hinder the rider. Like it’s big brother, the suspension on the YZ-F is fantastic! It’s tuned to work well for a wide range of riders, and it succeeded. It soaks up breaking bumps, acceleration chop, over jumps and aggressive seat bouncing with no fuss whatsoever. Chassis is very stable with excellent balance front and rear, and with that, allows the bike to not only turn very well, but more importantly, exits extremely well. Power of the brakes are overall, very good throughout the entire range.

By far, the Power Tuner App is the most advanced way to adjust your bikes mapping. It’s a strong reason as to why the Yamaha edged out the competition for number one. The ease and capability of the tuner is phenomenal, and the fact that you can store multiple engine maps in the app and simply by syncing your phone you can reprogram your map button to anything you have stored, is amazing. Add to that the large size and simplicity of the map button, it makes switching maps while riding, incredibly easy. 

But there are a few small cons… Compared to the Kawasaki, which for me is the Yamaha’s biggest competition, the YZ250F has a slight vague feeling mid-turn, in tight turns only. However, its ability to apply power through flat turns is superb. Additionally, the brakes, while they are good, their power and feel, tapers off about 3/4 the way through the pull.

2) Kawasaki KX250

Having logged many hours on the 2020 KX250, I have very in-depth knowledge of the changes Kawasaki made for 2021. Last year, in search of more power, Kawasaki engineers made significant changes to the engine which led to a massive increase of top-end performance. However, it was at the cost of the little low end the 2019 had, and a soft mid-range to boot. For 2021 it seems that Kawasaki have found a way to nearly mirror the on-track feeling of the Yamaha. Meaning, the bike has a similar low-end grunt, a healthy mid-range that keeps the motor signing into the top. And while it feels as though a little bit of top end was lost, the fact that the usable power has been spread out so much, it’s a trade that I think many riders will enjoy. New for ’21 was the addition of a hydraulic clutch with the same spec as the 450, and as mentioned in the 450 shootout, this is probably my favorite hydraulic clutch that’s adorned any motocross bike. Not necessarily for the ease of pull, but rather the feel that is fed through the lever under engagement. It has the feel of a cable clutch, with the ease of a hydraulic - it’s perfection. Through turns, the handling of the KX250 is like a surgeon’s scalpel. It’s very precise. With a positive feel from the initial turn in, all the way through exit, the bike goes where you with little effort. 

I had a bit of headshake on corner-entrance under braking up to right before tipping in and some headshake on the exit under power. We went two clicks stiffer on compression and two clicks softer on rebound, which allowed the fork to stay higher in the stroke on entrance and the faster rebound kept the wheel tracking the ground for better stability and absorption. On the rear, I had some kicking entering corners, we went out 1/4 turn on high speed compression in the rear which settled the back end and brought more confidence while entering. 

Like the 450, my only complaints with this bike are two obscure details. First was the brake lever. Because I brake with my index finger, where my finger pulled in was at a very narrow part of the lever which also had a square edge to it, after my allotted time on the bike there was a slight soreness on my finger, but could potentially be worse if I were logging hours on the bike. Second, was the map selector, or lack thereof. This is the only bike that does not have an “on the fly” map adjuster, but rather uses old school couplers that are outdated in 2021. 

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3) Husqvarna FC 250

Wow, ahead of the KTM? This was probably the toughest decision of the test because unlike the 450’s, these two are very similar with only slight nuances between them. So why did this bike perform better for me than the 450? I have to believe the engine (power delivery, weight, reciprocating mass and engine braking) worked better for the overall package than the 450 did. 

The FC250 has a snappy fast revving engine that really is a joy to ride. While it is softer on bottom that 1st and 2nd place, it transitions into a strong mid-range and generous top end with no hit along the way. I did desire to only run the bike in Map 2 without TC on, as this gives the most “aggressive” mapping, which is moderately tame compared to its orange brother. 

What stood out for me (and took me by surprise) was the suspension, something I strongly disliked on the 450. Whereas the 450 was harsh and felt like there was no movement front or rear and the bike sat very low, the 250 felt more normal both in terms of how it rode and the action of the suspension. Something that was pointed out by the other testers was how the rear of the bike felt low while riding, while most did not like this feeling, it is a feeling that I am comfortable with. It gives the rear end a very planted feel while driving through corner exit. So, this combination of bike that is designed to reduce pitching and a slightly softer power deliver, gives the feeling of a very progressive feed of power and traction into the rear wheel, especially on flat turns or flat exits. Since I tend have a steer-with-the-rear riding style, this layout really works for me. This was the reason I scored it above the KTM, it’s not that the KTM did anything wrong, because it’s really an amazing machine as well. It’s just that for my riding style, this design catered to me.

The downside of the reduced suspension travel is that some plushness is lost as the extra 10mm is at the top of the stroke which softens the initial impact of bumps. Other small issues with the bike are clutch feel. In the 250 class where slipping the clutch is common, having precise feel is imperative, I feel the hydraulic clutches of the Austrian bikes has more of an on/off feel leaving the occasional imprecise engagement feel. The brakes, while extremely powerful, are a little spongy or soft in the first have of the lever pull. This left me with a bit of a vague feeling in my connection of the brake lever and the front wheel. 

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4) KTM 250 SX-F

As mentioned, the Husky and KTM were extremely hard for me to place, as they were similar in many areas and each had some highlights that outshined the other. 

The motor of the KTM had a bit more snap than its Austrian brother, not necessarily more power, but rather just throttle response. MAP2 on the KTM also felt more aggressive than MAP1 and both maps on the Husqvarna. Low end on the KTM is very tame, probably the softest of the bunch, but once it gets through the mid-range the bikes long legs really start to run. There is no other bike in the class that has the flex its engine in the upper RPM’s like the KTM, the bike pulls all the way to the rev limiter. While there are benefits to this allowing you to stretch a gear rather than short shift, or keeping your foot from being so busy on outdoor style tracks, you will be left wanting more if you ride in tighter tracks or if you use the bike for more than one riding discipline (ie: mx and trails). The suspension is super plush through the stroke both front and rear, it has excellent hold up under braking going into the corner and equally brilliant accelerating down straightaways. 

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So why was did this finish behind the Husky? Because the suspension was plush and comfortable, and as fun as the aggressive MAP 2 is, the added snap and plush initial stroke of the suspension, made the chassis pitch fore and aft when going from braking to open throttle. The Husqvarna did not have this. Clutch and brake have the same small grumbles as the Husqvarna, in which I would prefer a little more feedback from both sides of the handlebar.

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5) Honda CRF250R

This was probably the hardest decision to place this bike here, why? Because it does nothing wrong, in fact there are many good qualities about this bike. The motor is broad and strong, but not exceptional. The suspension is has good hold up and a solid feel to the ground, but is lacking a bit of comfort in the small stuff. Where this bike really shines (in my opinion) is in its chassis, it’s very stable and confidence inspiring. Ergonomics of the bike are typical Honda, comfy and cozy. Sitting on a Honda has a certain “at ease” feeling to it, everything has been put in the exact place it should be in. 

What sets the Honda back most is its engine, it has a decent low to mid-range, but not as strong as the Yamaha or Kawasaki. It has an good mid to top end, but not like the Husky or KTM. It’s just a solid middle of the road powerplant, which as proven by the GEICO Honda team over the years, can be made into a national championship winning machine. The brakes are strong, though a bit touchy when the terrain starts to dry out. One last downside to this bike, is the twin exhaust. Being that it’s two full exhaust systems, one on each side of the bike, it makes replacing or upgrading your exhaust system, very expensive. Luckily, and assuming Honda follows the trend of updating the 250 the year after the 450, next year will see the 250 with a single pipe once again. 


Steve Boniface 
Age: 37
Height: 5’ 7”
Weight: 150 lb
Class: Ex Pro

1 Yamaha YZ250F
2 KTM 250 SX-F
3 Kawasaki KX250
4 Husqvarna FC 250
5 Honda CRF250R

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1) Yamaha YZ250F

The main reason the YZ was on top for me was the suspension. I feel like this bike is the most balanced front to rear, it has comfort, it works in the slower parts of the track, but also in the faster parts, bumby parts, jumps… Overall the most comfort and a safe feeling on the Yamaha. I really like the change they made with the chassis, it really helped with the cornering which was one of the issues with last year's bike. It wasn’t always easy to put the front-end where you want, especially in tight, rutted corners. But the change they made for this year, for me, was amazing. The bike turns as good as any of the other bike. 

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I was a little disappointed at first with the engine, because I really, really liked the engine character of last year’s YZ. It just took me a little while to get used to the new engine. I know its not a big difference for some riders, but I really liked the torquey feeling I had on the older model and they move the power a little more mid- to top-end. But on day two at Cahuilla, we played a lot more with the mapping and the mapping can make a huge difference on the YZ. I think I tried like four or five different maps, each time getting more of the bottom-end torque that I was looking for and ended up with a motor that was much more enjoyable to ride and I was able to have a lot more fun on the bike. Even though the made the ‘21 motor rev more and better in the higher RPM, you still don’t get what you can get riding the KTM or the Husky the same way. Overall, I liked this bike the most over the two days at two different tracks, which is important. If I were to buy a bike, I would buy the Yamaha. 

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2) KTM 250 SX-F

It was hard for me to decide between this bike and the Kawasaki for the number two spot. If I could have I would have had them tied in second place. This was the first year that I felt really comfortable on the KTM and had that much fun riding this bike. It is a lot easier now to jump from a Japanese bike to the KTM, not like before when you had to sort of get used to the bike. That wasn’t the case this year. The KTM turned really good and the suspension was the best I’ve felt on the orange bike. The engine, for me, is still the best one when you ride in the higher RPM, like a young rider or aggressive racer. I was able to clear some jumps a lot easier on the KTM than any other bike, I mean, jumps that require strictly power. Even with that power, it is very easy to ride, very easy to have fun. This was the best KTM engine that I’ve ridden in the last few years. You can tell it is a bike that leans more toward racing than every day riding, but it is also a bike that you can ride fast at 80% effort, with the little extra torque. There is not much to go on it to go racing - it has good brakes, good bars, hydraulic clutch and all the extras. One weird issue was that, for me, it was hard to shift under load, more than the other bikes. 

3) Kawasaki KX250

It wasn’t easy putting the Kawi third. We always say it is sort of a neutral bike that is good everywhere but not great anywhere. But this year I feel like they improved the bike a lot. Engine wise, the bike is a lot faster, a lot more like what the YZ engine used to be. For me, it is very torquey, great bottom-end power, great mid-range power. It revs like, not crazy, but you can still push the gears pretty high. It doesn’t limit you like the new YZ motor can, like if you forget to shift a gear. I loved the Kawi at Cahuilla, where I felt I could ride it the best for the longest amount of time. It was just easy to ride, cornering was good, long sweepers were easey, it handled the rough sections and jumps really well. Engine wise, I think the KTM is a little faster. Suspension wise, the Yamaha is better and that’s why I couldn’t really put the Kawi ahead of those two, but if I got to ride the Kawi this year, I would be totally stoked about it. The hydraulic clutch is great, and so is the electric start. I like the new bar and the grips are a lot better stock. I know it isn’t a huge deal, but the stock Kawasaki grips were like sandpaper. I still have a problem with the big muffler. It’s a very noisy bike and it still has the biggest and ugliest muffler. It looks like a CRF from 2004. 

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4) Husqvarna FC 250

Again not easy, but the main reason that the FC is in fourth is the suspension is on the soft side. I did love the lowered suspension though. Even though it was just 10 mm, I feel like the center of gravity was lower and it worked so much better for me. Normally it is a bike I’m not looking forward to riding. But this year, it was a bike I had a lot of fun on, especially the second day at Cahuilla, where the suspension was not as big of an issue as it was at Fox. The engine was good, very close to the KTM - I didn’t feel like a huge performance difference. Handling was a lot better than last year’s. The main thing for me was the suspension being too soft overall. We tried a lot of things, adding pressure to the fork, but I didn’t like the balance I was getting. With the shock, on the bigger jumps, I was going really low through the stroke. Even with that, I felt good on the bike, like I never have on the Husky before. Some years it seemed really down on power compared to the KTM, but this year it was much closer. Again, not easy to put it in fourth and right behind one, two, and three. 

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5) Honda CRF250R

The main reason the Honda is in fifth place is the motor. You can feel that it is down on power compared to the other bikes, especially when it is soft. It was more noticeable at Cahuilla than at Fox. And for a 250, you want maximum power you can get out of a bike. It’s not like riding a 450 where handling and suspension, for me, are priority, and I can deal with pretty much anything in the engine department. Actually it’s better when there is not too much power. Its completely the opposite for the 250s. Give me all the power I can get, and I’ll deal with something else if I need too. I’m a Honda guy, I love the chassis, it turns really good. I feel amazing on the bike, standing up, sitting down… The front of the bike feels like no other bike, you can turn wherever you want. The suspension was pretty good, a little bit on the soft side as well, but we were able to correct that by a few clicker changes - a little siffer on the fork. This helped with a little headshake that I was getting, when the fork was going too fast, too far in the stroke. We went stiffer on the high speed on the shock. Nothing bad to say about the bike, really fun and easy to ride. Just down on power compared to the other bikes. 


Corey Martin
Age: 33
Height: 5’ 11”
Weight: 172 lbs.
Class: Vet Int. 

1 KTM 250 SX-F
2 Kawasaki KX250
3 Yamaha YZ250F
4 Honda CRF250R
5 Husqvarna FC 250

1) KTM 250 SX-F

I started day one on the KTM and spent a majority of that first moto learning the track. The advantage for the KTM in this scenario is that I felt right at home on the bike and was able to spend that moto focusing mostly on my riding and the bike did the rest of the work. Day two, I waited until mid-day to ride the bike allowing the track to break in. My initial thoughts were that the KTM felt very slender in the saddle and had a comfortable, yet aggressive stance. I initially made subtle changes to soften the forks with simple clicker changes. I also went a quarter turn out on low speed for the shock and three clicks out on compression to allow the rear end to squat. I ended up leaving the forks at 10.5 bar but really like the fact we could make aggressive changes to the fork with such ease. The bike felt very planted and balanced once we made these changes. I rode the more aggressive map throughout day two and felt the motor was very generous and potent from top to bottom. I had the ability to lug corners and surprised with the torque the motor provided. However, there were some tight corners I was searching for a little more top end power. The clutch had very smooth and effective engagement points and resembled a cable feel. Overall the KTM was the easiest to ride throughout all levels of comfort on the track; whether I was rolling the track and learning the obstacles or aggressively sprinting to put in a fast lap the KTM performed and allowed me to focus on the track, my technique and riding.

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2) Kawasaki KX250

As a taller rider I have historically favored the Kawasaki’s chassis and ergonomics. I feel they have always had a longer, taller stance and a roomy cockpit. The 2021 surely carried those traits and I never felt cramped on the bike. The seat compound was firm but not too hard and allowed smooth transition from front to rear of the bike. Even with the taller feel I did not have difficulty in corner entry through corner exit and was pleased with how balanced it was. We had to make slight changes in the shock to allow me to ride lower in the stroke but nothing major. I rode with both the green and white maps and the motor felt powerful in both. Both maps favored riding in the lower to mid-range of the power but had good top end power as well. One thing I noticed was how loud the bike was. The braking and clutch on the Kawasaki did not disappoint and were easy to control and potent throughout the entirety of my motos on both days.   

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3) Yamaha YZ250F

Yamaha has obviously done some serious work to create a winning machine and I was eager to get on the YZ-F to feel this bike for myself, but I struggled getting comfortable on the bike with both the chassis and powerplant. But this is where you need to know what works best for you as a rider. I prefer low-mid range power and torque where I feel the YZF excelled in the top end and was meant to be ridden there. We went through a handful of maps before we found one the suited me the most. The app on the phone that allows you to monitor your bikes usage, maintenance intervals and easily change maps is a game changer that the other manufacturers have not quite caught up with Yamaha on this yet. Kudos to them for this sophisticated platform. We moved the bars in the mounts, changed the high speed on the shock and lowered the sag to allow the bike to work for me through the track. Overall, I feel that the Yamaha has a more aggressive feel to it and takes a little more attentiveness to be ridden properly. 

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4) Honda CRF250R

The Honda was the most fun bike for me to ride because of how easy and consistent it was. The chassis, ergonomics, motor and suspension all complement each other very well and leave you with a good bike across the board. This bike required very little changes to make me feel comfortable and was as simple as softening the fork and shock to get it where I wanted it. The powerplant was very linear and I rode the most aggressive map throughout the day. Where this bike got edged out was in the power department and ergonomics. As friendly and fun as the motor was it lacked in comparison to those above it. And for the ergonomics I simply felt like the cockpit and overall feel of the bike was a bit smaller and crammed for my longer legs and arms. 

5) Husqvarna FC 250

Like the big brother, the 450, the first thing I felt when seated in the Husky 250 was how low it sat. The bike rolled into corner entry-mid corner and corner exit very easily due to the lower chassis yet was unpredictable and jumped around through highspeed chop or deceleration. The bike also had a very plush feel to it when riding which gave it a more leisurely feel. We ended up stiffening the forks with two clicks in on compression and added 0.2 bar to the fork which helped a lot. We also slowed rebound in the rear. I felt it was more difficult to transition from a seated stance to standing on this bike compared to the others. The engine was what shined the most for me on this bike. It had a very meaty low-mid range torque and the power curve did not sign off towards the top. It may not have created as much punch in the top end as the others but was great In the mid range sector. Overall the Husky was a “nice” bike to ride but didn’t have that aggressive feel to it.


Willy Simons 
Age: 23 
Height: 5’3”
Weight: 135 lb
Ability: Local Pro 

1 Yamaha YZ250F
2 Kawasaki KX250
3 KTM 250 SX-F
4 Husqvarna FC 250
5 Honda CRF250R

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1) Yamaha YZ250F

The Yamaha in my opinion is a great all-around motorcycle. Yamaha has done a great job through their R&D department to fit a wide variety of riders from beginners to veteran pros with great suspension and a very broad motor package. The Yamaha equiped with KYB SSS suspension is easily adjustable to different weights and speeds. The only changes I made were a few clicks out on the fork compression and opening up the high speed on the shock just a quarter turn to get the rear end to sit a tad lower in the stroke as they come a little rear-end-high while dropping the forks tubes in the clamps to 5 mm for a good balance feel. The Yamaha is a heavy hitter in the power department with a very powerful low to mid range hit. This bike will suit the aggressive riders who may want to over rev the bike and will suit the smoother riders who want to ride a gear higher but still have enough torque coming out of corners, the Yamaha YZ250F will allow that. This bike is a great package from wheel to wheel which is why it made its way to the top of my list.

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2) Kawasaki KX250

The Kawasaki was a big shock for me as to how much I enjoyed riding it both days at Fox Raceway & Cahuilla Creek. I haven’t spent much time on Kawasaki's few previous models as my last Kawasaki was a 2013 with a SSF fork (Single Function Fork) which I dreaded riding on rough tracks with that set up. The 2021 model, which comes equiped with SSS spring suspension, was a breath of fresh air. I rode this bike last, about 2 pm, at Fox Raceway and the track was rough and dry, but the Kawasaki handled it with ease. The chassis feels very light and nimble with great rider feedback in corners and jumps. When combining that with a strong motor, I didn’t want to get off this bike. I had actually stiffen the fork compression and opened up the fork rebound to get a little more feedback coming into corners and those were the only changes I had made even when riding this bike last at Fox raceway. I think in the past it was a necessity to get your KX’s suspension revalved but not the case anymore after riding this new bike. I rode with the white coupler which is the aggressive map and this bike packs a punch in the mid range which is very similar to the YZ250F. The hydraulic clutch is a nice addition on this model. I am very impressed with Kawasaki’s new KX250F and look forward to hopping on one again.  

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3) KTM 250 SX-F

One of the first things I noticed while riding the KTM 250SXF was how great the mass centralization was on this bike. The boys at KTM did a great job of getting all the weight in the middle of the bike which gives the bike a more planted feel and easier throttle control while on the slippery parts of the track. I was only able to get the sag to 100 mm due to my weight without having to drop a spring rate. I played around with the pressure on the air forks but reverted back to the stock pressure of 10.5 bar and then from there started playing with clickers until I was comfortable to push the bike to a faster pace. The KTM’s power is a little different than the other bikes, the bike has almost no low-end hit but makes a ton of power high in the rpms. You have to basically abuse this motor and be very active and shift to get this bike to make power. One of the nice alternatives to this bike not having a big low-end hit is you can come into corners smoother and roll on the throttle for a faster exit. I would recommend trying to go up one or two teeth on the rear sprocket to get the power down in the low-end. This bike all-in-all was light and playful and fun to ride once addressing some changes to the suspension. My only complaints with this bike are the bars are tad wide especially for a smaller rider which is an easy fix, but also this bike feels like it has a lot of engine braking. I believe for a personal bike with a few little changes this bike would be a straight weapon in the 250 class. 

4) Husqvarna FC 250 

I was excited about getting to try this bike out as I hadn’t ridden one in quite a while. The Husqvarna just like the KTM has a great mass centralization and the two bikes have relatively the same feel when it comes to power and delivery. One thing I noticed even when just sitting on this bike was that it was lower to the ground. Husqvarna for 2021 made a change to the internals of the forks and changed the knuckle and linkage lowering both 10 mm making the bike a tad smaller than the KTM. Once again with my weight I was only able to get to a little over 100 mm of sag. I noticed that even when riding this bike to the track entrance from Husqvarna’s van that the bike felt low in the rear end. I struggled with the air forks as well started from the stock 10.5 pressure and then dropping them 0.2 bar and playing with clickers by opening up the rebound on the forks for more feedback coming into small chop. I ended up taking preload back out of the spring to about 97mm of sag and stiffen the high speed a little to get the rear end up and that was as far as I could get the bike to feel comfortable but it still wasn’t as good as I feel the bike could be. I believe with the changes of lowering the bike 10mm it has thrown off the balance a little bit and I would like to get some more time in the future to address those issues, because like the KTM, I believe with the right set up this bike would be really good and could easily win the shootout. That being sad, I still had fun riding this bike especially in map two which is the more aggressive map. There has also been speculation between Magura & Brembo clutch components between Husqvarna and KTM, but I actually prefer the Magura as it had a stronger feel to it, which comes on the Husqvarna. 

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5) Honda CRF250R

The 2021 Honda 250R has a very sleek design and very neutral platform as far as the ergonomics go. That being said, this bike lacks in the power department in its stock trim compared to the other manufacturers. I noticed while riding at Fox Raceway even while riding in map three (aggressive) that I was constantly looking for more and over riding the bike a little for the bigger jumps and looking for torque coming out of corners. The shifting points are different as second and third gear feel very short where I caught myself over revving the bike looking for power. The motor aside, the CRF250R handles great and suspension, with just a few clicker adjustments, could probably be set up for a wide variety of riders. Although I ranked this bike last I actually had a blast riding this bike at Cahuilla Creek where the track is a lot more high speed where you can keep your speed up. I actually didn’t want to get off the bike towards the end of the day after making some suspension adjustments.You can really let this bike sing with the motor being a little bit down on power and you feel like you can put the bike wherever you want. I can recall a certain moment while riding the Honda after blasting through a sand rut after making some fork adjustments saying to myself “There we go!” with a big smile on my face. I think this bike would really suit beginner to novice riders with its easy going engine and easy handling chassis, but for somebody trying to be competitive in the 250 class, the Honda in it’s stock trim wouldn’t be competitive against some of the other brands. Yet, after some aftermarket parts, this bike would be an awesome motorcycle.


Sean Klinger 
Age: 34
Height: 5’9”
Weight: 178 lb
Ability: Vet Nov

1 Kawasaki KX250
2 Yamaha YZ250F
3 Honda CRF450R
4 KTM 250 SX-F
5 Husqvarna FC 250

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1) Kawasaki KX250

By far, this bike was the biggest surprise to me this year. For one, I’m used to riding these bikes at their intros, but I had a separated shoulder for both the Kawi and Yamaha intros. Being the first time riding the green bike, it felt so different from last year’s bike. In the past, I would call Kawi the “does everything good, but nothing great” bike. This year it does a lot of things great. 

First off, with the sag at the recommended 103 mm, the balance of the bike was super stink bug, and even as a front-end steerer that likes a front-end weight bias, it was too much. I did ask for a little more sag to get the rear down, but Kawi said the KYB specialists noted that for this bike in particular, the sag should be left alone, and the rear should be lowered by softening compression. With the shock opened up and the fork left alone, I still felt the rear was a little high with the wide-ish seat smacking me in my pants more than the other bikes in rough stuff. With all that being said, I could ride the Kawi faster and more confidently than any other bike. The front wheel felt glued to the ground like it was literally on rails. This is one of the best feelings for a front-end steerer and I really didn’t want to get off the Kawi for this reason. Actually another reason was the motor. First, a downside to the KX is that it is obnoxiously loud, and does have a little more vibration than the other bikes. But other than that, the changes they made to the 2021 machine really beefed up the bottom to mid, and didn’t mess with the great top end. Straight up, I just shifted less with the Kawasaki than any other bike. I could hit every jump easier and could ride it a gear high in tight corners without it falling on its face. 

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2) Yamaha YZ250F

Consistently one of the top bikes for me. Talking about the motor on the YZ-F is a little complicated because the infinite amount of mapping changes you can make to the bike can really change the way the bike’s power is delivered. Although, it still has a similar characteristic in all maps. It is very quick revving and exciting, with the best throttle response of any bike. With that, though, it can feel like it revs out too quickly and makes you shift more. There are maps that smooth out the power and give you a bit more control over the hit which I prefer. Plus the fact that you can easily change the power for any track you go to is sort of like having multiple bikes. The suspension on the YZ250F is another highlight. The seemingly impossible balance of super-comfort combined with great hold up and performance is great. It offers a massive amount of confidence with the track is rough or chewed up. I do have to say that the YZ seems to almost like the bigger bumps than the super small chatter. The only chink in the Yamaha’s suspension and handling for me was a little skittery feeling with small chatter, but softening the forks just a little helped with that. 

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3) Honda CR250R

Like I mentioned before, while in the past the Kawi was the “good-not-great” bike, this year, that was the Honda for me. Other than being a little down on power, there is nothing I can say I don’t like about the bike. The ergos are super comfortable, neutral, and overall slim. The handling is agile and very easy to put where you want and carve a tight line. The suspension is good and within a few clicks can make a wide range of riders happy. But, in the 250 class, power is king. When I ride the Honda by itself, I’m perfectly happy. When I ride it in a shootout, I realize how much I was wringing it out to hit the same jumps that other bikes would clear with ease. But it is still an awesome bike that I’d be happy to ride all year. 

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4) KTM 250 SX-F

On paper, I should like this bike more than I do. Just sitting on it, I love the super flat seat, the very slim and neutral ergos and the wide handlebars. But I necessarily ride high enough in the RPMs to get the most out of the motor and for some reason I struggle with turning the KTM. What I like about the SX-F is that I feel like the steel frame makes it feel the most planted and the most stable bike. It’s like, when you make a mistake or get off-line and out of sorts, it is not amplified by the bike and it is very easy to recover. Plus, I find it the easiest to turn in flat corners with nothing to push against, almost flat track style. The power is definitely there, you just have to hold it wide open to find it, and while on my best days I feel like I can ride a 250F this way for a while, I don’t always want to ride like a teenager trying to impress their IG followers. 

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5) Husqvarna FC 250

I really wanted to like this bike. I’m not that tall and I feel like, for my average height, I have short legs so a lower bike might be just what I needed. But that’s not how it turned out. First off, I notice the 10 mm less travel way more in the back of the bike than the front. So much so that I got about half a lap and came back in to take out some sag. I felt like I was sliding off the back of the bike. We went to 102 mm of sag which helped but I would probably go to 100 to get it where I’d feel the most balance. Once I got it more even, the chassis feel is one of my favorites. Again, its steel frame seems to give a lot of comfort and an overall planted feeling. On the flipside, the Husky doesn’t feel as precise as other bikes and whether it is just my turning style or lack of skill, I struggled getting the FC into the inside ruts and even to initiate pretty much any turn. With some more time, I'm sure I could find a setting I could live with, but the Husky would take a little more work than the other bikes for me to be happy. 

Conclusion 

Risking sounding like a broken record, if we've said it once, we've said it a thousand times: Each one of these bikes is fan-freakin-tastic. Every one of these machines could be the perfect bike for a wide variety of reasons. At the end of day one, we all looked at each other going, "Holy crap, I'm struggling with a ranking." In fact, this shootout was so close and so many riders where asking if they could give bikes ties that we might be changing our format in the future. It is truly not fair that any of these bikes have to come in 'last' place. 

Our parting advice if you are actually in the market for a 2021 250 motocross bike is 1) if you know you have a particular riding style, go for the bike that matches that the best, not necessarily the winner and 2) support a local dealer that will support you. Find a dealership that you like and that has knowledgable staff and support from a particular OEM and go with that. The honest truth is that almost every rider (including serious racers) could get comfortable with any of these bikes with very minor tweaks. It's good time to be a motocrosser. 

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